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A conversation with Bat-Orgil Batjargal about yurts, Mongolia and his Carleton experience

Bat-Orgil Batjargal, otherwise known as Bata or “the Mongol” as he signs off his emails, is a well-known figure on Carleton College’s campus. A senior Computer Science and Mathematics major, Bata is famous for his friendly demeanor and habit of sparking up conversation with anyone he runs into. Over Midterm Break, he hosted an event on the Chapel lawn with a Mongolian yurt and welcomed students in to visit throughout the weekend. As the first Mongolian student to attend Carleton, he says this is his way of giving back to the school he loves so dearly.

Q: So, you’re from Mongolia. Can you talk to me about where exactly you’re from?

A: I grew up in the capital city of Mongolia. It’s called Ulaanbaatar, meaning “red hero.” We named the city “red hero” after our victory against the Japanese in 1945. My country is formed from 3 million people. One and a half million people live in the capital, and I am one of them. Am I Mongolian? My father calls me a white-handed boy because I can’t do a real man’s job. I might be too soft to be a real Mongolian: a real man riding his horse, sleeping under the sky, his dwelling being in the mountains and his goal being survival. I’m a city boy.

Why did you want to leave Mongolia and come to Carleton College?

I used to do science competitions in high school and I represented Mongolia in the International Chemistry Olympiad two times. It’s a high school competition where every country sends four students. There, I met these kids who were the best in their country and many of them were going to go to school in America, mainly research institutions like MIT, Caltech, John Hopkins. And I was like, “Why can’t I do this? All I need to do is learn English.” So I started learning English full-time after high school and I applied to college for three years. The first time I applied, my essay looked like a fifth grade kid’s essay, the second time maybe a ninth grader’s essay, and the third time a twelfth grader’s essay I assume given that’s the year Carleton accepted me.

Were there any other Mongolian students at Carleton when you got here?

I was the one and only first Mongolian student on campus when I was accepted in 2017. The second Mongolian student was accepted this year as a freshman, so he’s in Mongolia taking classes remotely. He’s from my high school, a very good student, and I think he’ll do much better than me in terms of academics. We have talked on the phone, and I helped him pick classes and professors. I made many mistakes in my class choices, and I learned that the hard way.

How has your experience at Carleton been?

I met great kids, I made great friends, and I learned more about myself. I realized how important happiness is in our lives. I thought I would have the energy to be working all the time, which I had in high school, but in college I was distracted. I tried to do everything. I overworked, didn’t sleep enough, and now I’ve found a balance. In Mongolia, we call “yara” this urge to get things done as soon as possible. My mom, growing up, would always say to ‘stop doing that,’ to stop being impatient to get things done. I didn’t know how deep that went in terms of how I lived my life. I didn’t have the ability to have a dinner that was longer than 30 minutes. I would be dying: “Oh my god, I’m supposed to be getting things done.” But then the high point of conversations is usually at the end. I like conversation and discussion. One thing I learned from Carleton is the more you talk, the more you understand yourself.

What do you think was holding you back from being open like that?

One part was arrogance, and one part was being an immigrant in America. I would tell myself that my opinion doesn’t matter. The moment you become an immigrant, you are the lowest class, and it does some tricky things in your mind. The kind of confidence you feel at home disappears. But I found my voice in how to communicate these things.

A view from inside the yurt, which had an open air top.
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Rew.

Was this event with the Mongolian yurt one way for you to open up to Carleton?

It’s about sharing with Carleton what I can provide. It’s about teaching Mongolian history, teaching Mongolian culture, teaching Mongolian economy. That’s why I had these slots for people to come so they can just listen and discuss. I try to make it as discussion-oriented as possible. It’s essentially my way of giving back to Carleton when it has given me so much. I could be a student who just stopped by as a tourist, studied here and then went away, but now I’m a Carl who’s giving back to Carleton with what I can.

What is a Mongolian yurt and what is its purpose?

Let’s start with American dwellings. We live in houses, and our houses are heated up by electric or gas systems. They’re very controlled, and we don’t truly experience nature in them. The yurt is a representation of what Mongolian life is like. It’s essentially a tent that you can carry around. The fireplace is right in the middle, which heats it up fast. There’s pelt, wooden frames and ropes, and everything is made by hand. It’s a place of living that’s closer to nature because you can be inside and then out in nature within one step.

What lies for your future after Carleton? Do you plan to go back home?

The spiel that I told my dad is that I’m going to start my career in technology, become someone who creates things. I want to have one experience where I use the things I’ve learned here in CS, and then eventually I will go to grad school—I think in Asia. At the end of the day, do I see myself buying a house, having a mortgage, and having a family here? Not really. At some point, I’m going to convince myself that it’s time to go home, but right now, I feel like I need more training and more experience before returning.

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